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Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Nov. 9, 2020.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Premier John Horgan said British Columbia could return to stricter lockdown measures if the latest efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Lower Mainland are not successful.

Case counts in the province continued to explode, with 998 new cases reported over a two-day period this weekend. The trajectory pushed Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer, to impose strict new measures limiting residents of the Lower Mainland from socializing outside their immediate households.

The new rules, announced Saturday, prompted a flurry of confusion over what is and isn’t allowed and resulted in the government offering some clarity: Gym workouts one-on-one with a trainer are okay, but exercise classes aren’t; a walk with a friend or two is okay, but walking to meet up with a bunch of friends isn’t.

Mr. Horgan made clear Monday that if people aren’t willing to do their part with such measures then the alternative – more comprehensive measures like those of the spring – would be likely.

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“That’s the end result if we don’t start to see these numbers come down,” he told reporters on Monday.

“Our objective is to make sure that our economy can remain open,” he added, “but it is going to require people to get with the program and there’s a whole bunch of people that are not abiding by the minimalist rules we had in place.”

The Premier said he still believes that seeking compliance from British Columbians is better than rigorous enforcement, “but enforcement is key and a vital part of the work that we will be doing in the weeks ahead.”

He said his government is transferring more inspectors to support the work of public-health officials and WorkSafeBC to ensure workers and customers are safe. As well, he said government will ramp up advertising to amplify instructions from the Provincial Health Officer.

Dr. Henry acknowledged the new restrictions, which apply to the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley, resulted in some confusion on the weekend, as people struggled with questions including how to define “immediate household.”

In a briefing Monday, she said the new restrictions target activities shown to have resulted in increased transmission, including some indoor sports.

“We now know indoor situations, particularly when we are exercising vigorously, where there is loud music playing, and spin classes are one of those situations – that is a situation where this virus can spread very rapidly,” she said.

Social gatherings are restricted to immediate household groups.

Dr. Henry said it’s safe to be outside, with a friend or two within safe distances. However, she stressed that outdoor social gatherings are not allowed under the new orders.

“Go outside. We’ve said this from the very beginning of this pandemic. Yes, it’s safe to be outside. Be outside with one or two of your friends, go for a walk, keep your distances, but no backyard barbecues right now.”

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the new restrictions do not affect theatre performances, film screenings or other in-person arts events – as long as they follow the new protocols, they can continue operating. The organizations are considered businesses and the events are not social gatherings, the spokesperson explained.

But a collaborative performance involving Ballet BC, the Polygon Gallery and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, scheduled for Nov. 20 and 22, was postponed until the new year – possibly February. Re-Space was to feature Ballet BC dancers accompanied by the VSO’s principal cellist in the North Vancouver gallery.

“Even though our social distancing protocols that we have in place we feel would ensure the safety of all of our visitors, we just felt in the abundance of caution that it was the right thing to do,” said the Polygon’s Reid Shier on Monday. The Polygon had also postponed Sunday’s planned tea meditation performance and Q&A with artist Lam Wong because of the order on gathering and events. The gallery itself remains open.

Many events, such as this month’s Diwali Fest, have already moved exclusively online. Some venues and festivals are offering a hybrid experience. The Eastside Culture Crawl – which has also moved primarily online, but has planned some studio visits by appointment – said Monday it would go ahead with limited in-person visits, with safety protocols in place.

Other organizations offering in-person events were also planning to continue.

Dr. Henry said people could still go out to restaurants, as long as they were following restaurant safety protocols, including wearing masks in common areas and keeping groups at fewer than six people.

Don Falconer, general manager of the Hotel Belmont in Vancouver, said restaurants have worked hard to implement safety protocols but found the latest orders confusing when they were introduced.

“We will rise to the occasion – the entire hospitality sector has shown time and time again ... we will do what what the Provincial Health Officer tells us to do in the hopes that the numbers go down," he said.

Some people called to cancel reservations after hearing of the new orders but restaurants should be able to serve small groups of people, said Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.

“If you’re going with someone to a restaurant, just use common sense and make sure everyone is healthy,” he said.

With reports from Marsha Lederman and Xiao Xu in Vancouver

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